Burns and Stalker

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  • Topic: Hierarchy, Organic organisation, Task
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Burns and Stalker, The Management of Innovation*

. . . The utility of the notions of “mechanistic” and “organic” management systems resides largely in their being related as dependent variables to the rate of “environmental” change. “Environmental,” in this connection, refers to the technological basis of production and to the market situation. . . . The increasing rate of technological change characteristic of the last generation could plausibly be regarded as a function of fundamental changes in the relationship of production to consumption. If the form of management is properly to be seen as dependent on the situation the concern is trying to meet, it follows that there is no single set of principles for “good organization,” an ideal type of management system which can serve as a model to which administrative practice should, or could in time, approximate. It follows also that there is an overriding management task in first interpreting correctly the market and technological situation, in terms of its instability or of the rate at which conditions are changing, and then designing the management system appropriate to the conditions, and making it work. “Direction,” as I have labelled this activity, is the distinctive task of managers-in-chief. . . . For the individual, much of the importance of the difference between mechanistic and organic systems lies in the extent of his commitment to the working organization. Mechanistic systems (namely “bureaucracies”) define his functions, together with the methods, responsibilities, and powers appropriate to them; in other words, however, this means that boundaries are set. That is to say, in being told what he has to attend to, and how, he is also told what he does not have to bother with, what is not his affair, what is not expected of him, what he can post *Excerpted with permission of the publisher from The Management of Innovation, by T. Burns and G. M. Stalker, 1961, London: Tavistock. 103




elsewhere as the responsibility of others. In organic systems, the boundaries of feasible demands on the individual disappear. The greatest stress is placed on his regarding himself as fully implicated in the discharge of any task appearing over his horizon, as involved not merely in the exercise of a special competence but in commitment to the success of the concern’s undertakings approximating somewhat to that of the doctor or scientist in the discharge of his professional functions. . . .

Mechanistic and Organic Systems
We are now at the point at which we may set down the outline of the two management systems which represent for us . . . the two polar extremities of the forms which such systems can take when they are adapted to a specific rate of technical and commercial change. The case we have tried to establish from the literature, as from our research experience . . . , is that the different forms assumed by a working organization do exist objectively and are not merely interpretations offered by observers of different schools. Both types represent a “rational” form of organization, in that they may both, in our experience, be explicitly and deliberately created and maintained to exploit the human resources of a concern in the most efficient manner feasible in the circumstances of the concern. Not surprisingly, however, each exhibits characteristics which have been hitherto associated with different kinds of interpretation. For it is our contention that empirical findings have usually been classified according to sociological ideology rather than according to the functional specificity of the working organization to its task and the conditions confronting it. We have tried to argue that these are two formally contrasted forms of management system. These we shall call the mechanistic and organic form. A mechanistic management system is appropriate to stable conditions. It is characterized by: 1. The specialized...
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